The Wellington Phoenix sealed a playoff spot with a 3-1 win over North Queensland Fury tonight and goalkeeper Danny Vukovic realised a long-held ambition.
With the Phoenix leading 2-1 in the final minute Fury defender Brett Studman pulled back Wellington substitute Mirjan Pavlovic in the penalty area and Vukovic raced the length of the field to grab the ball and score from the spot.
Vukovic loves playing a striker-s role before training and can often be seen slotting penalties before the serious work begins.
That paid dividends tonight as he gave goalkeeper Sebastian Usai no.chance with a sweetly struck spot kick.
“I ran over to Ricki [Herbert] and asked could I take it,” a laughing Vukovic said.
“I-m not sure what he said but didn-t really care. I knew it was the last kick of the game and there is no better time for a keeper to score than then.
“Troy [Hearfield] had the ball and he is my best mate in the team. He knew how I have always wanted to score in a competitive match so he handed the ball over to me.”
The fans loved it and it ended a successful night on a high note.
Needing only a point from the game to secure sixth place in the playoffs, the Phoenix got off to a great start by scoring twice in the opening 11 minutes through Chris Greenacre and Dylan Macallister.
Greenacre opened the scoring in the 7th minute when he beat Fury-s offside trap and raced away to slip the ball past Usai.
Macallister was also left free by the square Fury defence and the big striker kept his composure to score with a delicate chip.
From that point the Phoenix were in control, apart from a short period in the second spell during which Studman scored with a header from the corner.
Wellington changed their shape to regain control and could have scored at least four more goals before Vukovic netted his penalty.
Coach Ricki Herbert was happy with his team-s performance, especially given the tough schedule his team have endured in the last few weeks.
The return from suspension of Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat added stability to Wellington-s defence and midfield.
The Phoenix will now face third-placed Adelaide United in Adelaide on Friday night and Herbert suggested there was a chance Paul Ifill could travel with the team.
“Paul has been running and will train on Tuesday. If he comes through all right we might travel him,” Herbert said.
For the last two games Herbert has had to juggle the side through injuries and suspensions but at least in one area he faces a different dilemma when choosing a side to play Adelaide.
Captain Andrew Durante missed Wednesday-s game against Sydney FC and last night-s match through suspension, but will be available for the playoffs and will be competing with Sigmund and Jade North for the two centre back spots.
A 12,718 strong crowd turned out for the Phoenix-s final home game and stayed long after the final whistle to salute the team.
Wellington Phoenix 3 (Chris Greenacre, Dylan Macallister, Danny Vukovic), North Queensland Fury 1 (Brett Studman). HT: 2-0